At the political level, the move by Caribbean Community governments to make Britain and other European nations compensate the region for the transatlantic slave trade appears to have in recent years been slotted to the backburner but two recent events involving British royals could well reignite efforts pressure Europe into action.
During celebrations marking Barbados’ switch to a republic with its own native president as head of state last November, Britain’s Prince Charles referred to the “appalling atrocity of slavery,” suggesting that it “forever stains our history.” He understood he had to speak on the issue.
His remarks as Barbados dumped his mother — Queen Elizabeth as its head of state after decades- were widely reported around the world but the monarchy took some political flak for not apologizing outright and for not fully acknowledging its role in the brutal slave trade.
On his current trip to Jamaica, Charles’ son and future heir Prince William, ensured he addressed the issues as a slew of reparations and rights groups protested his presence on the island and England’s stubbornness so far to both apologize and to move towards formally talking about its atrocious links to slavery. Protesting groups say they are not impressed.
“I strongly agree with my father, The Prince of Wales, who said in Barbados last year that the appalling atrocity of slavery forever stains our history,” said the Duke in remarks the local reparations commission and other groups regarded as simply an effort to play to the gallery amid the protests. “While the pain runs deep, Jamaica continues to forge its future with determination, courage and fortitude,” he said.
But respected regional activists like Professor Verne Shepherd said on local a television program late Wednesday that his remarks were not new and were carefully crafted to match those made by previous British big wigs including former Prime Minister David Cameron and others.
“I am sure he got instructions – ‘Please don’t say ‘apology’, don’t use that word, because you’re going to commit the British state to reparation’,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Andrew Holness made it clear to the Duke and his delegation that Jamaica intends to join sister nation, Barbados, by August and will switch to a republic and have its own head of state. Jamaica would have celebrated 60 years as an independent nation by then. Barbados switched on its 55th independence anniversary. Holness spoke even as Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the Gleaner newspaper that it is important that other regional nations should become republics as well.
“By doing so, we’ll be literally closing that circle of independence. We have individuals who can serve as presidents of our respective countries, and I believe that each country within the Commonwealth Caribbean all aspire to become a republic,” Browne said.
Making it clear to London that Jamaica is in the departure area, PM Holness declared that ”Jamaica is, as you would see, a country that is very proud of our history, very proud of what we have achieved, and we’re moving on. We intend to attain, in short order, our development goals and fulfil our true ambitions as an independent, developed, prosperous country.”
Ensuring he got the issue in proper context, the PM said the royal visit presented an opportunity to deal with unsettled issues “front and center.”
The delegation next heads to The Bahamas at the weekend, but they will not forget their Belize experience as authorities were forced to cancel a visit to an indigenous village as opposition to their presence simmered. Bahamian groups have, also, already signaled plans to unwelcome the royals.